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Having a panic attack is distressing enough, but the recovery period after a panic attack isn’t easy either. It’s common to feel fatigued, weak, drowsy, achy, cold, and emotionally vulnerable after a panic attack, and those feelings can last several hours or even longer.
Part of learning how to cope with panic attacks in general involves learning how to get back on track after a panic attack. These strategies can help you reduce the effects that attacks have on your life, by helping you get back to normal more quickly.
The types of strategies you can use in any specific situation will depend on where you are, of course. It’s always easier when you have panic attacks at home; as it means that you can use whatever strategies work the best. If you’re at work or elsewhere in public, your options are more limited, but there are still several things you can try.
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Rest, but don’t Blank Out
Feelings of drowsiness, physical fatigue and emotional vulnerability are very common after a panic attack, and it’s these feelings that can contribute the most to the need for a recovery period. This is often difficult to cope with if you happen to be at work or anywhere else other than at home, because feeling safe is an important part of recovery.
If you need to rest, or take a nap, go ahead and do that first off. Often the need to sit and rest, or sleep, is the strongest sensation after a panic attack. If you decide to rest rather than sleep, try not to “blank out”. Keep your mind occupied if possible, to prevent the intrusion of thoughts you associate with panic. A quiet activity such as playing solitaire or a similar game can help here.
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Reconnect with your Body and Mind
One of the features of panic attacks for many people is a feeling of disconnection from the body or the mind. These sensations are extremely disconcerting, and are often one of the biggest barriers to getting back to normal afterwards. One aspect of learning how to get back on track after a panic attack can include strategies for “reconnecting” with yourself when the panic is over.
For example, you might try occupying yourself with physical or mental activity. It’s tempting to sit and watch TV and blank out, but this can actually enhance and prolong the feeling of disconnection. Instead, something that actively engages your mind or body can be a better option. This can be as simple as counting off slow, even breaths, which will occupy both your body and mind at the same time.
One effective strategy, once you feel physically strong enough, is to take a shower. It’s a very good way to reassure yourself of the connection between body and mind, and it will help you warm up if you’re feeling cold. In addition, it can help ease any aches and pains you might have developed after the panic attack.
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Some people feel very cold during and after a panic attack, and the attack might include shivering or having chattering teeth. If you experience these types of symptoms, getting warm after a panic attack can help you get back on track.
- Wrap up in a blanket
- Sip a hot cup of herbal tea (make sure anything you drink is caffeine-free, as caffeine might trigger feelings of nervousness)
- Take a warm shower or bath
Even if panic attacks don’t leave you feeling physically cold, these are all good ways to help you get back to normal. Warmth is comforting, and the action of sipping a hot drink is familiar and reassuring, and these things can help you feel safer.
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Many people feel the need to rest after a panic attack, but it’s not the case for everyone.
For some, the aftereffects of a panic attack can include restlessness, feeling jittery, and lots of nervous energy. This is due to the production of large amounts of adrenaline during a panic attack. In these situations, you might feel like the last thing you want to do is sit and rest, and when this is the case cardiovascular exercise is an effective way of burning off the adrenaline and the restless energy.
It doesn’t need to be anything complicated. A simple exercise like jogging in place, jumping jacks, or even dancing, is ideal. Exercise will also help you warm up if you’re feeling cold, and if you’re feeling disconnected from your body it’s an excellent way to get back in touch.
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Learning how to get back on track after a panic attack is not an easy process. It's more a matter of trial and error, as you will likely find that some things work for you while others don't.
Also remember that there are no strict rules here. For example, avoiding TV is a suggestion only; if you find that watching your favorite episodes of an old comedy show is the only thing that helps, do it and don't worry about whether it's the "right" thing to do.
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Melinda Smith, M.A., Robert Segal, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.: Anxiety Attacks and Disorders
Mind U.K.: Panic Attacks
The University of Texas at Austin Counseling & Mental Health Center: Are you Living in Fear? Getting a Handle on Panic Attacks